February 21, 2020
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What If Godse's Bullets Had Missed Gandhi?

Ambedkar wrote: "I think good will come out of the death of Mr Gandhi. It will release people from bondage to supermen, it will make them think for themselves and compel them to stand on their own merits." Harsh words...

What If Godse's Bullets Had Missed Gandhi?
P Dayal/CNS
What If Godse's Bullets Had Missed Gandhi?
Had Nathuram Godse failed to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi and the latter had lived a few more years he would have been the most frustrated man in India, marginalised and feeling totally unwanted. By early 1946, he had begun to sense his ebbing authority. His most devout followers had begun to desert him. That year he wrote to his friend Ghanshyamdas Birla: "My voice carries no weight in the Working Committee. I don’t like the shape things are taking and I cannot speak out."

In March ’46, when Gandhi was away in Bihar, the Congress Working Committee reluctantly, as Judith Brown put it, but realistically resolved that partition of the Punjab would be the only solution to the growing violence. Gandhi was deeply hostile to any partition on communal grounds and asked for an explanation from both Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel. Wrote Nehru: "I feel convinced and so did most members of the Working Committee that we must press for this immediate division so that reality might be brought into the picture." Patel said the decision was taken only after the deepest deliberation, and told his guru: "You are, of course, entitled to say what you feel is right."

Pained beyond description, Gandhi told one of his prayer meetings: "Whatever the Congress decides will be done; nothing will be according to what I say. My writ runs no more.... No one listens to me any more.... I am crying in the wilderness." By May ’46, Gandhi began to feel so frustrated he no longer wished to live to be 125.

The day before he was assassinated, on January 29, 1948, in what was generally later referred to as his last will and testament, he summarised his vision of a Congress that wasn’t a power-seeking political party but a body of servants of the people "whose main labours would be in the villages". As he saw it, the Congress had outlived its usefulness and needed to be disbanded. He would have been ignored, ignominiously, writes Judith Brown in her biography of the Mahatma: "(He) was acutely aware that there was little need of him now. He spoke of being a ‘lone voice’. He wondered aloud what place he had in this new India and had stopped aspiring to a long life, because he now felt so helpless... unable to serve his country."

Gandhi had named Nehru as his successor but he was increasingly getting disillusioned with his leadership. By mid-December ’47, he launched a weak attack against the Congress rule, saying: "We have to develop in us the power that non-violence alone can give." He urged his listeners at his prayer meetings: "Today we have forgotten the ‘charkha’.... Today we have a large army...our expenditure on the army has increased enormously...it is a tragedy and a shame. For so long we fought through the charkha and the moment we have power in our hands, we forget it. Today we look to the army."

Gandhi urged reduction of defence expenditure, drastic reduction of all government salaries and preferred volunteers to employing high-priced civil servants. He had become an anachronism and had he lived, there would have been bitter arguments between him on the one hand and Nehru and Patel on the other. Even on Jammu and Kashmir, Gandhi had his ideas. Writes Stanley Wolpert in Gandhi’s Passion: "Gandhi’s peaceful solution for Kashmir, formulating an honourable way for India to extricate itself from the costly, deadly war, was completely ignored by Nehru. Not only did Nehru silently reject Bapu’s wise and kind offer, he also resented Gandhi’s daring to intrude into the one foreign policy area Nehru coveted most as his own personal domain."

Later in his biography, Wolpert adds: "In its proliferation of arms and in its foreign policy New Delhi has for the most part turned away from Bapu’s ideal course and life’s teaching." By ’47 he had cut himself off from Wardha as years earlier he had cut himself off from his very first Indian ashram at Sabarmati. To those who lived there he wrote to say they should regulate their lives as they thought best. Writes Brown: "He evidently felt that, for all their good intentions and acceptance of his ideals, they had all failed to exhibit the true quality and power of non-violence. He told them: ‘I am afraid you must give up all hope of my returning early or returning at all to the ashram.’" By ’47, he had come to the conclusion that he was not wanted by anyone anywhere, be they his ashramites, Nehru, Patel or the Congress Working Committee, and worst of all, the people at large. It was a pathetic situation.

Gandhi would have opposed the taking of Hyderabad and Goa by force, the Five Year Plans, the building of huge dams, the upgrading of the army, in fact everything Nehru stood for. He would have been an embarrassment to Nehru and Nehru would have been an embarrassment to him. His assassination, in a sense, for all the grief it evoked, must have come as a relief to both. It would be sheer hypocrisy to say living in free India would have brought happiness to Gandhi. On the contrary, he would have been seen as an enemy of progress. Nehru would have felt he was working with his hands bound.

What Ambedkar wrote about Gandhi’s death to Laxmi Kabir, who he was subsequently to marry, thus gains relevance: "My own view is that great men are of great service to their country, but they are also at certain times a great hindrance to the progress of the country. Mr Gandhi had become a positive danger to this country. He had choked all the thoughts. He was holding together the Congress which is a combination of all the bad and self-seeking elements in society who agreed on no social or moral principle governing the life of society except the one of praising and flattering Mr Gandhi. Such a body is unfit to govern a country. As the Bible says that sometimes good cometh out of evil, so also I think good will come out of the death of Mr Gandhi. It will release people from bondage to supermen, it will make them think for themselves and compel them to stand on their own merits."

Harsh words and only Nehru would be able to answer to them. For good or evil, Gandhi’s end set India on a new path.

M.V. Kamath’s autobiography, A Reporter at Large, has been just published.

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